Chesterton, Bridget Maria. The Grandchildren of Solano Lopez: Frontier and Nation in Paraguay, 1904-1936. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2013. xii + 179 pages. Cloth. $50.00.
After winning independence from Spain in the early nineteenth century, Paraguayans and Bolivians failed to agree over the boundary that separated them in the sparsely inhabited Chaco Boreal, a harsh wilderness of about 100,000 square miles between the Pilcomayo River and the Paraguay River. By the early twentieth century, interest in the Chaco Boreal increased. Defeated by Chile in the War of Pacific (1879-1883), Bolivia had lost control of disputed territory on the Pacific coast and hence access to the sea. Ravaged by Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay in the War of the Triple Alliance (1865-1870), Paraguay had lost most of its adult male population. The Paraguayan dictator Francisco Solano Lopez lost his life during the War of the Triple Alliance and was widely believed to have led Paraguay into ruin. Ultimately, both Paraguay and Bolivia looked to expand into the Chaco Boreal.
In The Grandchildren of Solano Lopez, historian Bridget Maria Chesterton tells the fascinating story of the role of the remote Chaco Boreal frontier in the development of Paraguayan nationalism. Chesterton begins her analysis in 1904, the year the Liberal Party took power in Paraguay. Comprised of Spanish-speaking urban intellectual elites, the Liberal Party "vilified Solano Lopez as a man who had single-handedly destroyed the Paraguayan nation" (p. 119). Chesterton's study culminates with the Chaco War, the Western Hemisphere's bloodiest international conflict in the twentieth century, fought between Paraguay and Bolivia from 1932 to 1935. Chesterton makes a stimulating and convincing case that, in addition to fighting for land and natural resources, the rural Paraguayan Guarani speaker who served as a soldier in the Chaco War was also struggling "to the redeem the honor of the nation--and Solano Lopez--after the insulting defeat of the War of the Triple Alliance, while simultaneously proclaiming his proud Guarani-speaking heritage" (p. 6). The Liberal Party maintained control of Paraguay until the end of the Chaco War, when Guarani-speaking veterans and rural Paraguayans supported a military coup, ousting the Liberals in a short-lived revolution that nevertheless transformed the cultural and political composition of the nation.
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